The British and French colonial empires reached their peaks after the First World War, a reflection of the power of their alliance.
Following the war, at the Treaty of Versailles the British and French worked closely together, as their interests were largely similar. Both countries were interested in creating a weakened Germany, as opposed to a more moderate American position. Both were also keen to protect and expand their empires, in the face of calls for self-determination. On a visit to London, French leader Georges Clemenceau was hailed by the British crowds. Lloyd George was given a similar reception in Paris.
Both states joined the League of Nations, and both signed agreements of defence of several countries, most significantly Poland. The Treaty of Sèvres split the Middle East between the two states, in the form of Mandates. However the outlook of the nations were different during the inter-war years, while France saw itself inherently as a European power, Britain enjoyed close relationships with Australia, Canada and New Zealand and at one time flirted with the idea of Empire Free Trade, a form of protectionism that would have seen large tariffs placed on goods from France.
Second World War
Both states initially pursued a policy of appeasement towards Nazi Germany. When this failed, they both declared war in September 1939 in response to the German invasion of Poland.
In the years leading up to World War II, both countries followed a similar diplomatic path of appeasement of Germany in Czechoslovakia, despite a French military excursion there. As Nazi intentions became clear, France pushed for a harder line but the British demurred, believing diplomacy could solve the disputes.
After guaranteeing the independence of Poland, both declared war on Germany on the same day, 3 September 1939 after the Germans ignored an ultimatum to withdraw from the country. When Germany began its attack on France in 1940, British troops and French troops again fought side by side. Eventually, after the Germans came through the Ardennes, it became clear that France would not be able to fend off the German attack, and Churchill pledged to France that Britain would continue to fight for France's freedom, even if it must do so alone. The final bond between the two nations was so strong that members of the British cabinet had proposed a temporary union of the two countries for the sake of morale. The plan was drawn up by Jean Monnet, who later created the Common Market. However the French government felt (amongst other things) that the plan for union would reduce France to the level of a British Dominion, and so the proposal was turned down, and shortly afterwards France fell to the Germans. The Free French resistance, led by Charles de Gaulle, were sheltered in London.
In southern France a collaborative government known as Vichy France was set up, allied to the Nazis. The British were soon at war with the Vichy state, destroying its navy and moving into colonies such as Senegal on behalf of the Free French government.
Following D-Day, relations between the two peoples were at a high, as the British were greeted as liberators. Following the victory over Germany in 1945, Britain and France became close as both feared the Americans would withdraw from Europe leaving them vulnerable to the Soviet Union's expanding communist bloc. Britain strongly advocated that France be given a zone of occupied Germany. Both states were amongst the five Permanent Members of the new UN Security Council, where they commonly collaborated.
In 1956 the Suez Canal, previously owned by an Anglo-French company, was nationalised by the Egyptian government. The British and the French were both strongly committed to taking the canal back by force. Both the British and French governments saw the Egyptian dictator Nasser as another Hitler, and were determined to act to prevent a repeat of the events leading up to the Second World War. During the initial stages of the crisis, the French Prime Minister proposed a union between Britain and France, but the British were less enthusiastic. Anthony Eden called it a "good idea in substance" but thought it "a bit premature".
The Americans, while opposed to Nasser, refused to become involved with what many regarded as European colonialism putting severe strain on the Anglo-American special relationship. The relations between Britain and France were not entirely harmonious, as the French kept the British in the dark about the involvement of Israel until very close to the commencement of military operations.
The Suez Crisis was probably the last time that Anglo-French relations have been more comfortable than Anglo-American relations. Immediately after the crisis Anglo-French relations started to sour again, and they have never again reached the peak they did in the years between 1900 and 1940.
Shortly after this, France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries formed what would become the European Economic Community and later the European Union, and did not at first allow Britain to join. De Gaulle's attempts to exclude the British from European affairs during the beginning of France's Fifth Republic are now seen by many in Britain to be a betrayal of the bond between the countries, and Anthony Eden's exclusion of France from the commonwealth is seen in a similar light in France. The French partly feared that were the British to join the Common Market they would attempt to dominate it.
Over the years, Britain and France have often taken diverging courses within the European Community. British policy has favoured an expansion of the Community and free trade while France has advocated protectionism and restricting membership of the Community to a core of West European states.
In 1958 with France mired in a seemingly unwinnable war in Algeria, Charles de Gaulle the wartime leader of the Free French returned to power in France. He created the Fifth French Republic, ending the post-war parliamentary system and replacing it with a strong Presidency, which became dominated by his followers - the Gaullists.
De Gaulle made ambitious changes to French foreign policy - first ending the war in Algeria, and then withdrawing France from the NATO command structure. De Gaulle declared a new policy of "in every direction", meaning that French military forces were prepared to fight a war against Britain and America, as much as they were against the Soviet Union.
In 1967 de Gaulle visited Quebec, a French-speaking province of Canada and spoke out in favour of independence. This was received as a snub to the English-speaking world, and the British in particular because of the close relationship between Britain and Canada. It was poorly received in Britain and was criticized even in the French press , and it was opposed by many French and French-Canadians including the future-Canadian prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, a French-Canadian from Montreal .
When de Gaulle resigned in 1969, a new French government under Georges Pompidou were prepared to open a more friendly dialogue with Britain and, although they did not reverse much of De Gaulle's foreign policy, they removed their objections to British membership of the EEC opening the way for the United Kingdom to join the common market in 1973.
These differing points of view came to a head in the lead-up to the 2003 War in Iraq. Britain, and their American allies, strongly advocated the use of force to remove Saddam Hussein while France (with Germany, Russia, and other nations) strongly opposed such action, with French President [Jacques Chirac] threatening to veto any resolution proposed to the UN Security Council. However, despite such differences Chirac and then British Prime Minister Tony Blair maintained a fairly close relationship during their years in office even after the Iraq War started Both states asserted the importance of the Entente cordiale alliance, and the role it had played during the twentieth century.
President Nicolas Sarkozy has tried to establish a closer relationship with Britain, than existed under his predecessors Jacques Chirac and François Mitterrand.
Following his election in 2007 President Nicolas Sarkozy has attempted to forge closer relations and urged both countries to "overcome our long-standing rivalries and build together a future that will be stronger because we will be together" in an official trip to the UK. He also said "If we want to change Europe my dear British friends - and we Frenchmen do wish to change Europe - we need you inside Europe to help us do so, not standing on the outside."
However relations took a turn for the worse when the French President said that D-Day Landing Memorials in 2009 were an American French affair and therefore did not invite the Queen, and did not consider Britain's majority involvement in the famous landings, This matter was quickly resolved however with the Prince of Wales alongside Gordon Brown attending the event as the representatives for Great Britain.". United International Press. 26 March 2008. Retrieved on 27 March 2008. "French President Nicolas Sarkozy told the British Parliament he wanted to forge a new "brotherhood" between countries."
In March 2008, President Sarkozy made a state visit to Britain. He had a state dinner with Queen Elizabeth II and addressed a joint session of the British parliament where he promised closer cooperation between the two countries' governments in the future.
There have been some major patriotic issues between the French and British scientific communities, despite overall cooperation. As a first example, Newtonian mechanics was not generally accepted in France for about half a century because of what was seen as a competing formulation by Descartes.
As a second example of stiff competition, the scandal about which of the two countries deserves credit for the discovery the planet Neptune has still not died down, though the consensus weighs in France's favour.
Arts and culture
In general, France is regarded with favour by Britain in regard to its high culture and is seen as an ideal holiday destination, whilst France sees Britain as its vital trading partner and a major help in military support. Both countries are contemptuous of each other's cooking, the French claiming all British food is bland and boring whilst the British claim the French food is inedible (snails, frog legs). Much of the apparent disdain for French food and culture in Britain takes the form of self-effacing humour, and British comedy often uses French culture as a butt of jokes. Whether this is representative of true opinion is open to debate.
French classical music has always been popular in Britain. British popular music is in turn popular in France. English literature, in particular the works of Shakespeare, have been immensely popular in France. Delacroix based many of his paintings on scenes from his plays, and it has been said that during the eighteenth century that 'France appreciated Shakespeare when England would not.'] In turn, French writers such as Molière and Voltaire have been translated numerous times into English. In general, most of the more popular books in either language are translated into the other.
The most common second language taught in schools in Britain is French, and the most commonly taught second language in France is English. A marginally higher proportion of the French population is proficient in English than vice versa.
In the sport of rugby there is a rivalry between England and France. France has become one of the top countries in the world at rugby, and sends a team to every world cup. Though rugby is originally an British sport, French rugby has developed to such an extent that the English and French teams are now stiff competitors, with neither side greatly superior to the other. Nowadays meanwhile Wales are more competitive to the France Team than England are but the rivalry between Wales and France is just a sporting one.
During the 2008 Summer Olympics there was some rivalry towards the beginning but as Great Britain began to dominate the medals table. The two countries became mutually supportive of each other
The influence of French players and coaches on British football has been increasing in recent years and is often cited as an example of Anglo-French co-operation. In particular the Premier League club Arsenal FC has become known for its Anglo-French connection due to French players and a French manager Arsène Wenger. In March 2008 their Emirates stadium was chosen as the venue for a meeting during a state visit by the French President precisely for this reason. Curiously, despite rivalry in rugby, there is no significant rivalry between the international football teams.